University of Iowa not actively pursuing new west-side dorm

'We're just finishing a $100 million dorm. We don't need another one'

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IOWA CITY — With its foot on the gas for growth last year, the University of Iowa requested and received approval to pursue a third new residence hall — this one slated to add 500 to 600 suite-style beds on the west side of campus, near the athletic facilities.

But that dorm was not included in the university’s five-year capital improvement plans presented to the Board of Regents last week, and officials said the proposed west-side hall “is not an active project.”

That news jives with comments UI President Bruce Harreld made during the regents meeting about dialing down growth and employing better class-size management. Former UI President Sally Mason in 2014 and 2015 talked of plans to grow the student body by 500 students a year, but Harreld said the university is in a “sweet spot” with its incoming class of 5,643 students.

“I’m trying to stop the culture that says every year each freshman class needs to be larger and larger and larger,” Harreld told The Gazette last week. “Why? Because we’re out of capacity. We’re just finishing a $100 million dorm. We don’t need another one. It’s going to be filled up lickity split.”

Managing enrollment, Harreld said, will allow for “deliberate and specific movement toward our goals,” including improving faculty pay, moving research forward, and increasing student success.

The west side residence hall, as proposed in August 2015, would have cost $85 million — funded through dormitory revenue bonds and athletics department gifts — and been located near Kinnick Stadium and the West Campus Transportation Center. Per NCAA regulations, it would have served new and returning student-athletes as well as students in the general population.

It was pitched as offering a dining venue and athletic training table, among other amenities, according to board documents.

“The University of Iowa Athletics Department continually reviews its facilities needs through an ongoing master planning process,” according to last year’s project proposal. “A high priority in this process is improving the living and learning environments for student-athletes.”

Despite the recent talk about limiting campus growth, UI spokeswoman Jeneane Beck said the decision to back off the west side hall is related to location and needs assessments.

“Locating a new residence hall toward the west end of the main campus has been considered,” Beck said. “But proximity to the core undergraduate academic campus led to selection of the Madison Street site for construction of its next residence hall.”

The university in spring 2015 began work on a new $95 million, 12-story residence hall on the east side of campus along Madison Street — behind Burge, Currier, and Stanley residence halls. The 300,000-square-foot structure, which will provide 1,049 new beds, is slated for completion next summer.

The board, at its meeting last week, agreed to name the new residence hall after Elizabeth Catlett, a famed sculptor and printmaker who was one of the university’s first three master of fine arts graduates and the first black female graduate to receive the degree.

Last year’s launch of work on Catlett Hall and discussion of another west side dorm came as the university dedicated its first new residence hall since 1968 — Mary Louise Peterson Residence Hall, which added 501 beds just west of the Iowa River near Rienow, Slater, and Hillcrest halls.

Those halls, according to a Board of Regents residence system report in February, were part of the university’s attempt to keep pace with enrollment growth it projected to reach 34,599 by the 2021 budget year. This fall’s total enrollment of 33,334 is 741 above the 32,593 students that UI officials in February predicted for fiscal 2017.

Going forward, Beck said, the university will focus on maintaining older residence halls — ensuring they are functional and attractive to incoming students. And, she said, “Future potential siting options will be considered with an eye toward best serving UI student needs.”

“There are currently no additional housing facilities being considered,” she said in an email. “But, should that become a campus need, all campus sites will be explored based on their individual strengths and challenges.”

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